This makes Quito an all year-round destination, and a favored location to learn Spanish with a Language Program. Quite apart from any other reason to travel in Ecuador, you'll want to spend time in Quito and the surrounding areas. See map.
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Quito is surrounded by natural beauty, by the mountains ringing the city, some volcanic, some with white capped peaks, lushly forested hills and a fertile valley. Long before the Spanish arrived, Quito was a busy place. It was a major Inca city and was destroyed by the Incas in a scorched earth policy that only briefly halted the Spanish invasion. Sebastián de Benalcázar recognized the city's location and founded San Francisco de Quito on top of the few ruins left him. The founding date, December 6, 1534, is celebrated annually with the Fiestas de Quito.
Sebastián de Benalcázar's settlement grew into a city that went on to become an important asset to the Spanish. crown. It became an episcopal seat, and then became the site of an Audiencia Real which extended far beyond Ecuador's current political boundaries. Until the 1830's Ecuador and Venezuela were part of Gran Colombia, with Quito as the capital of a southern province. Now it is the capital of the province of Pichincha, with a volcano of the same name. The volcano is active, and during the latter part of 1999, threatened to erupt on a daily basis. Quiteños have been living with this possibility for centuries. Proof of Quito's durability lies with the important colonial buildings that still exist, and are well cared for in a section of Old Town.
Quito grew up and out from that colonial core, and now can be organized into three areas. South of Old Town is mainly residential, a working-class housing area. North of Old Town is modern Quito with high-rise buildings, shopping centers, the financial center and major business centers. North of Quito is Mariscal Sucre airport, through which most visitors to Ecuador arrive and depart.
Things to See:
Most visitors concentrate their time in Old Town, for which UNESCO named Quito a cultural heritage site in 1978. Here you'll find the city laid out according to Spanish planning requirements, with the central plaza as the heart of the community. The plaza is bordered by the Palacio de Gobierno, the Cathedral and religious buildings, and the Palacio Presidencial. The Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in South America, and has been repaired and remodeled countless times due to earthquake damage. Heroes of the Independence are honored and several presidents are buried here.
On the Plaza San Francisco, a few blocks from the Plaza de la Independencia, is the Monastery of San Francisco, the oldest colonial building in Quito. It houses the Museo Franciscano where paintings, art and furniture are on display. There, too, is the ornate, gold decorated La Compañia church There are many churches in the Old Town area, most built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Be sure to visit El Sagario, recently renovated, Santo Domingo, La Merced and the monasteries of San Augustín and San Diego for their museums.
Not all of the things to see in Old Town are of a religious nature. Most of the colonial houses were built of adobe around an enclosed patio. The best preserved houses, complete with traditional balconies, are on an alley called La Ronda or Juan de Dios Morales. Some of the houses are open during daylight hours, and sell souvenir crafts. You can tour two historical homes, Casa de Benalcázar, the founder's home, and Casa de Sucre, where Field Marshall José de Antonio de Sucre, a hero of Latin American battles for independence, lived.
You'll see examples of Ecuadorian baroque in the art of the times, the mix of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art called the "Baroque School of Quito," in the Museo de Arte y Historia and the Museo de Arte Colonial. Don't miss the Casa de Cultura Ecuatoriana which houses several museums.